Whenever the topic of Boy Scouts of America gets brought up amongst Pagans/Polytheists, hackles are instantly raised and venom is spewed (I have no idea what animal has hackles and spews venom, but the Community certainly could use it as the unofficial mascot) against BSA and anyone who lets their kids join.
Thadd is a proud Polytheist boy who has been claimed by Poseidon and Hephaestus; he is also in the Boy Scouts of America.
“How could you let him join that hateful group?!”, shrieks that strange venom addled animal we’ll call Paganus Communityus. “He won’t last long. You wait and see. He’ll drop out by the first year and beg to go to Spiral Scouts.” Well, P. Communityus, I know my Thadd far better than you ever will (thank the Mighty Gods!) and I can tell you that the only way he’ll leave Scouts is if I drag him out kicking and screaming. He loves it.
How do I rectify the controversial issues surrounding BSA with my socially liberal view point? How do I, a Hellenic-Romana Polytheist Quaker mother, work within Scouting to make sure that my son is not a target of discrimination? How can other Pagan/Polytheist parents do the same?
I’m a huge supporter of Gay rights and as of right now the BSA stance is that they will not allow openly gay Leaders/members into the organization. Largely, this has to do with the grossly disproportional influence of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has on BSA. Oh, yes, the LDS Church (Mormon) has a firm grasp on the BSA Leaders’ ears even though the LDS’ Scouting Church-led program does not resemble mainstream Troop meetings in the slightest. It’s a travesty and I hope it will be rectified in the future. So why do I support BSA when they don’t support equality, which is one of the most important Quaker Testimonies? Because, as The Friends Committee on Scouting puts it:
FCS believes that any withdrawal by FCS from involvement with BSA would only serve to hurt Young Friends.
It is my belief that if we want to facilitate the change we want to see, then we have to be part of the change. It does no good, and is rather cowardly, to sit on the sidelines foaming and snapping with venom dripping with every written word and not actively be part of the solution. I have the opportunity to help create the change from the inside out. By refusing to join, by refusing to get involved, then I am telling the gay boys within BSA that they are not worth fighting for, but rather, they are just fodder for P. Communityus.
And really, where do you think Thadd is going to learn to accept others by holding Equality as a dear Testimony? From BSA or from home? If you teach your child your values at home, they will take them into the larger world and put them to use. If you allow your boys to be part of BSA while teaching them to support gay rights, then one day they just might be the one coming to the defense of an openly gay Leader/member and in turn helping to make the important changes to BSA regulations. Think of it as quiet rebellion.
Religious Rights for Pagans
Many people think that BSA disregards the rights of Pagans/Polytheists that would make Sen. Barr proud. Three points are often pointed to in support this belief: 1) The case of the Brown brothers who were unceremoniously kicked out of BSA after their local Troop leaders learned that they are Wiccan 2) the fact that there is not a Religious Emblem for Pagan boys to earn. and 3) there’s a whole lot of talk about God.
Let’s break this down:
1) The case against the Brown brothers was in 2006 in Louisiana. This is 2012 and I’m in California. Six years and half a country separates me from this isolated incident. Not to mention that I’m not Wiccan. It’s like saying that something that happened in 2006 in Texas to a Mormon family will happen by default in 2012 to a Methodist family in Wyoming because both families fall under the “Christian” umbrella.
The Brown family was well within their right to fight back, and fight hard, to keep their boys in BSA. I understand why they wouldn’t want their young sons part of BSA after how they were treated by their local leaders. But please keep in mind, they were treated horribly by local leaders who came in with their own bigotry and ignorance. In the Charter and Bylaws and Rules and Regulations of the Boy Scouts of America the stance of religion is:
No matter what the religious faith of the members may be, this fundamental need of good citizenship should be kept before them. The Boy Scouts of America, therefore, recognizes the religious element in the training of the member, but it is absolutely nonsectarian in its attitude toward that religious training. Its policy is that the home and the organization or group with which the member is connected shall give definite attention to religious life.
Now, this clause has many Atheistus Communityus (closely a kin to P. Communityus) gnashing teeth and snarling. But you know what? I’m not Atheist and don’t have any inclination to fight their battles. I have no problem with teaching Thadd to be reverent toward his God(s). Within this clause, all Pagan/Polytheist boys are protected. What happened to the Brown brothers is despicable and the Leaders involved in their expolusion should be kicked out on their ignorant rumps. They broke the Rules and Regulations, period.
2) The lack of a Pagan based religious emblem that can be earned by a Scout shouldn’t be surprising. C’mon, people, get real. We are the least organized group of people in any setting. In fact, how many times have you heard someone proudly claim that getting a group of Pagans organized is like herding cats? This should not be a point of pride! This will be our greatest undoing.
So, you want a religious emblem to represent the Pagan Scouts, do you? Okay. Let’s look at the logistics:
- Who will fund the money to get the emblem made and readily available?
- Who will set up the guidelines to earn the emblem?
- What will be the guidelines entail?
- What would the emblem look like?
Let me be very clear about this: If your answer is that the emblem should be a pentagram and that the guidelines should include knowledge of one’s familiar, The Wheel of the Year, elemental correspondences, and the like, I don’t want anything to do with it. Why? Because those are not part of my religious beliefs.
You do see the problem, don’t you? One emblem isn’t going to work. Just like there are many options for Christian Scouts to choose from, we would need many options. That means all of our different Paths and Traditions would have to work together to create one for their specific sect. Can it be done? Sure. It just requires people to stop acting like cats and begin acting like adult humans.
3) There’s a lot of talk about God, but there’s no reason it cannot mean your concept of God. Like I tell Thadd, “your duty to God is your duty to Poseidon”. It’s really a no brainer.
I think the Scout Law and Scout Oath are great tools to teach boys how to conduct themselves.
Scout Law: A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly,
courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty,
brave, clean, and reverent.
Scout Oath: On my honor I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country
and to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong,
mentally awake, and morally straight.
Tips for Prospective Pagan/Polytheist Scouting Families
- Get intimately familiar with the Rules and Regulations. Know your rights!
- Research the Troops in your area. I guarantee that there’s more than one option in your town. Learn who the Leaders are, contact them, ask specific questions about your concerns, visit them. Make sure that the Rules and Regulations will be steadfastly upheld no matter what the personal opinions are of the Leaders and parents.
- Get involved! It’s much easier for people to dismiss the minority if the minority does not make the effort to get involved. There are plenty of opportunities for parents to volunteer in Scouts.
I am fully aware that I’m very fortunate with my Scouting experience. Thadd is fully accepted by the Troop Leaders, but before I let him join the Troop of his choice I made sure that there was not going to be a problem. I’m not naive about the issues surrounding Pagan/Polytheist families. I do believe that with some special attention to preventative care, ( the whole an ounce of prevention/pound of cure adage) Scouting can be a wonderful experience for all.
By painting BSA with a broad brush saying that everyone in Scouting is a bigot is just as ignorant, hurtful, and harmful as the bigots.
Now I wait for the rabid Paganus Communityus to come stampeding in with raised hackles, dripping venom, and gnashing teeth. Really, what animal is that?!